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Fantasy Football: Darkhorse candidates to finish as the overall QB1 in 2023

2JT41W3 August 26 2022: Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) before the 1st half the NFL Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Matthew Lynch/CSM

  • The most clear choice: Justin Fields is going just outside the top-five quarterbacks in ADP and with his elite rushing upside and potential progression as a passer, he could be QB1 as soon as 2023.
  • In need of a bounce-back: Dak Prescott had a down year in 2022 but has flashed QB1 ability many times. He just needs to keep it going all season long.
  • One more big step forward needed: Tua Tagovailoa saw significant progression as a passer in 2022 and with one more step forward we could be looking at a special season in 2023.
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

The obvious choices to finish as the overall QB1 for fantasy are already going inside the top five at their position in terms of ADP, but before those players became the obvious choices, they were being drafted well outside of that range. This list will look at some of the candidates going outside the top-five quarterbacks in ADP and highlight what they need to do in 2023 to finish as the top players at their position.

These are darkhorse candidates after all, so the path to QB1 isn’t going to be easy, but by looking back at what the recipe for success was for those that have been there before, we can try and find the guys that check a lot of similar boxes and have the best shot to make it.

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Season QB1 Total PPR Points PPG PPG Rank ADP
2022 Patrick Mahomes 426.7 25.1 2 QB3
2021 Josh Allen 418.2 24.6 1 QB2
2020 Josh Allen 406.4 25.4 1 QB11
2019 Lamar Jackson 423.0 28.2 1 QB11
2018 Patrick Mahomes 427.2 26.7 1 QB15
  • While Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes have been highly drafted in each of the past two seasons, their initial high-end fantasy finishes, along with Lamar Jackson, were not necessarily expected from fantasy drafters. This makes sense and is often the case for almost every position. Players needing to prove it first before fantasy managers can feel good about investing in them certainly plays a part, but it can pay off to get ahead of the market.
  • This has been especially true with quarterbacks that don’t necessarily have a proven track record of success in the NFL as passers but offer the rushing upside that could push them over the top once that passing ability catches up. 
  • 2015 Cam Newton is another name to add to the list as someone who could have been considered a true dark horse to finish at the top of his position, as he was being drafted as the QB15 in terms of ADP the season that he became fantasy’s QB1.
Season QB1 Rushing attempts/game Rushing yards Rushing touchdowns
2022 Patrick Mahomes 3.0 358 4
2021 Josh Allen 6.5 763 6
2020 Josh Allen 5.1 421 8
2019 Lamar Jackson 10.5 1,206 7
2018 Patrick Mahomes 3.0 272 2
  • Rushing upside has become a significant cheat code for fantasy production and a quarterback that comes out on the high end of rushing attempts per game has an even greater shot to reach that QB1 mark.
  • Elite passers like Mahomes don’t necessarily need that much in the way of rushing production to finish as QB1 when throwing for over 5,000 yards and at least 40 touchdowns, but that is a very high bar to set for a potential darkhorse, so rushing upside becomes all the more crucial.
Season QB1 Passing grade Passing yards Passing TDs
2022 Patrick Mahomes 89.2 5,251 41
2021 Josh Allen 77.5 4,407 36
2020 Josh Allen 89.8 4,544 37
2019 Lamar Jackson 85.3 3,127 36
2018 Patrick Mahomes 92.8 5,097 50
  • 2019’s Lamar Jackson is the clear outlier in terms of overall passing yards from a fantasy QB1, but he was also a significant outlier as a runner with over 1,200 yards on double-digit attempts per game.
  • This path to success could be key for a lot of young, mobile quarterbacks that are still developing as passers, although 1,200 yards are still on the extreme end of things.
  • The key requirement here equates to a minimum of 35 touchdown passes and 4,000 passing yards in order to reach that QB1 status. Last season, there were only three quarterbacks (Joe Burrow, Mahomes, and Allen) who were able to accomplish both.
  • With these high-end passing totals a rare feat to accomplish, relying on rushing success could be crucial for these darkhorse options.
Season QB1 Adjusted completion rate (rank) Pressure to sack conversion rate


Top receiving option (career receiving grade)
2022 Patrick Mahomes 77.8% (5th) 10.8% (1st) Travis Kelce (94.0)
2021 Josh Allen 73.8% (21st) 10.6% (1st) Stefon Diggs (92.2)
2020 Josh Allen 79.1% (5th) 10.7% (3rd) Stefon Diggs (92.2)
2019 Lamar Jackson 76.1% (10th) 16.0% (9th) Mark Andrews (91.7)
2018 Patrick Mahomes 78.7% (4th) 11.6% (2nd) Travis Kelce (94.0)
  • A few additional things stood out when looking at what allowed each of the past season’s quarterbacks to finish as the top option at their position, one of which, unsurprisingly, was accuracy. Each quarterback, other than 2021 Allen, ranked top-10 at their position on the season in terms of adjusted completion percentage. Allen, at least, had a history of this ranking fifth the year prior to his drop-off in 2021.
  • Each QB1 was also among the best in the league each season at avoiding sacks, ranking inside the top 10 in terms of pressure-to-sack conversion rate allowed. Keeping drives alive and being able to avoid pressure, potentially for scramble opportunities, has been key.
  • The last bit that stands out is that each of these QB1s has had a top receiving option that has earned a career receiving grade over 90.0 on their roster and also earned a 90.0-plus receiving grade on the year of the QB1 season.

With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at this year’s darkhorse candidates going outside the top five in ADP who have a (long) shot to be the 2023 PPR QB1.

BEST SHOT: Justin Fields, Chicago Bears


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